State briefs for April 8

Supreme Court considers appeal by travel firms

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Supreme Court will decide whether online travel companies are required to pay general excise taxes for car rentals they sell in the state.

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The travel companies are appealing a 2016 state court ruling that required the companies to pay the tax.

Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity owe the state about $30 million under the ruling by Judge Gary W.B. Chang, said Gary Cruciani, an attorney representing the state Department of Taxation.

Under the ruling, the travel companies were required to pay the taxes on their gross receipts for transactions that only involved car rentals. For rental sales that were part of a tour package, the companies were required to pay tax on only the portion of the proceeds from car rentals.

The judge also ruled that the companies owed the state general excise taxes for previous tax years plus penalties and interest.

In oral arguments before the state’s highest court Thursday, Paul Alston, who is representing the travel companies, said that renting cars is a tourism-related service protected by state law from taxing at the retail level if already taxed at wholesale. As a result, the companies should not pay general excise taxes.

Governor urges quick action on replacing Souki

WAILUKU, Maui (AP) — Hawaii Gov. David Ige has instructed Democratic Party officials to move as quickly as possible to name possible candidates to fill the seat vacated by former state House Speaker Joe Souki.

The Democratic governor has asked the officials to submit three names to him by next week so he can appoint a new representative before the legislative session ends in May.

The 86-year-old representative resigned last month following a Hawaii State Ethics Commission investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed multiple women by subjecting them to unwanted kissing, touching and sexual language.

Souki paid a $5,000 fine Monday and issued an apology letter.

He has been barred from seeking public office for at least two years. Souki held the seat for more than three decades.

In an interview Thursday, Ige stressed the importance of Maui residents having a representative for Hawaii’s 8th House District, noting that “there are many important decisions that need to be made.”

“I don’t think it’s fair to the people of Wailuku and that district to say, ‘look, your representation does not count,’” Ige said.

After the list is submitted, Ige said he would interview the candidates and a decision should be made in a couple of days.

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The governor has 60 days to make the appointment following the first day of the seat’s vacancy.

“Obviously, having experience would be helpful, but it is definitely not a prerequisite, a hard criteria,” Ige said. “I will just look and see who is on the list and who would most effectively represent the community.”

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